Have you ever been confronted by an enraged middle-aged woman waving a teabag? Until this week, neither had I.
Let me explain.
I’ve moved into a new office at work.
My employers do this quite often – make us move office – for reasons none of us can quite fathom. Most likely it’s to give some highly-paid management figure something to do (‘Geoff. Have you nothing on again? What can we get you to do to justify paying you £150,000 a year? I’ve got it. Pick a few members of staff at random and make them move office for no apparent reason.’)
I work as a university lecturer teaching journalism (hard to believe I know) and a couple of months ago myself and the colleague I share my room with were informed we had to move to a new office, eight doors to the left – ie, about 20 feet away.
It meant we had to load into a box all our belongings – in my case three biros, a box of Yorkshire tea bags, and a couple of books on academia that I keep on my desk in order to maintain the pretence I’m actually interested in the job I do – and lug them to our new abode along the corridor.
Our old office used to be directly opposite the staff kitchen, which was extremely handy for warming up food, using the toaster, and – most importantly of all – rinsing your cups out and making a fresh brew. Our new office, however, is a bit of a trek from the kitchen, so, to save time, I have got in the habit over the last couple of months of throwing the empty dregs of my old teacup out of our office window.
The slight issue with this is that our windows only open about six inches – they must be worried lecturers are so depressed they may throw themselves to an early grave at any moment – so I have to pour the tea through this small gap. The danger of this is that the two offices below us, on the first and ground floor, are going to have small amounts of tea dribbling past their window around 14 times a day.
I didn’t actually think about this until Monday, when a middle-aged woman rapped on our door. (Just to be clear, in case any younger readers are confused, by rapped I mean to strike strongly with one’s knuckles, not to burst into some kind of American-style gangster rhyming patter).
I knew just from looking through the glass pane in the door that this woman was not happy. Her facial expression was exactly the same as the lady I once accidentally ran over with a shopping trolley on the Morrisons tinned fish aisle, when, overexcited by a reduction in the price of sardines, I forgot to look where I was going and struck her with some force. At the time she threatened to kill me, but fortunately she was so badly injured she wasn’t able to get up off the floor. As she was being treated by paramedics, I held out an olive branch by offering to buy her some tuna fish but this just seemed to make it worse.
Anyway, I digress. The colleague I share my room with – who is lovely and has become a good friend – was busy speaking to a student so I went to the door and stepped into the corridor.
Before I could even say hello, angry woman thrust a teabag towards my face and barked, ‘Is this your office?’
I thought about replying ‘no, my office is down the corridor, I just come and sit in this one eight hours a day for a laugh’ but, looking at her face, I decided it wasn’t the moment for an attempt at comedy.
“Erm, yes it is,” I said, slightly uneasily, eyeing the teabag. “Why?”
‘Have you been tipping tea and coffee out of the window?,’ she snarled, looking like a cross between Rosemary West and Eva Braun, though slightly more threatening.
This was an awkward situation.
Clearly I was the guilty party, and indeed my office colleague had been telling me for months to stop doing it because it would be annoy the people below us. However, this woman looked so furious I was worried that should I own up and confess she may produce a handgun from her blouse and shoot me through the head. Twice.
“Ah,” I said, and nodded gravely. “It’s the lady I share an office with. I’ve seen her do it once a twice.”
‘Once or twice?’ shrieked the woman in front of me, face reddening with rage by the second. ‘It happens about 20 times a day’.
I wanted to point out this was an exaggeration because the previous day I’d only done it six times at most, but again thought better of this.
Instead I shook my head and tutted. “I had no idea she was doing it that often,” I said. “She’s in with a student at the moment so can’t speak, but I’ll have a word and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
She glared at me and bellowed, ‘well, it would be much appreciated if you could. We’ve had to clean our windows every single day for the last two months. Janet has even had to buy a new J-cloth.’ And off she marched.
It wasn’t until later that day that I summoned the courage to tell my colleague what had happened. Actually, that’s not quite true. I told her a woman had knocked at the door to complain about the tea. ‘I told you you’d get in trouble for doing that,’ said my office colleague. ‘What did she say?’
“Oh, I just owned up and apologised and she was ok,” I lied.
This approach backfired two days later when the same enraged woman returned to our office, when I wasn’t around, to confront the woman she thought had been dumping her coffee and tea.
To the immense credit of my colleague she didn’t grass me in but manfully took the blame and apologised. I have since had to buy her 14 tins of Quality Street and make every single brew (none of which I have poured out of the window) as a debt of gratitude, and will probably continue having to do so for the next 20 years.